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What is a solar inverter?

What is a Solar Inverter?

The sun is a great natural resource that we certainly get enough of in Australia; and now we can use it to our advantage with solar systems. It’s easy to see the reasons for the increase in popularity because they not only save money on electricity bills but also provide environmentally friendly electricity to homes and businesses alike.

We can all see numerous solar systems every time we look out of our windows nowadays with new panels popping up daily but, when it comes down to it, do you know what components they are made of and how they actually work? 

Solar systems consist of the solar panels that you can see, a solar inverter that you usually can’t see and a rack to keep it all in place. So, what is this solar inverter that we mentioned? Well, it is a super important part of the system and we’re going to tell you why.

Solar panels atop a house with bright sun

What is a solar inverter?

A solar inverter converts direct current (DC) electricity into alternating current (AC) electricity. Solar panels generate DC electricity, but our households and businesses require AC electricity. Without an inverter, you cannot use the electricity that your solar panels are generating, deeming them useless. 

How do solar inverters work?

The sun shines onto your solar panels (also known as photovoltaic cells) and causes the electrons in the solar panel cells to move, which creates DC energy. The aforementioned DC energy is collected by circuits in the cells and converted to electrical power. This DC electricity is sent to the solar inverter. The solar inverter runs the DC through a transformer and AC electricity is dispatched.

Types of solar inverters

  • String Inverters

String inverters are the most common type of solar inverters. They work by connecting a string of solar panels to 1 inverter and are the least expensive option. String inverters can be located in an easy access area, such as the side of your house, which permits you to monitor and repair or replace it with ease.

  • Microinverters

Microinverters are located on the back of each solar panel and convert DC to AC directly from the panel. This allows each panel to optimise its output and can produce more energy during shady conditions. If shade covers one panel, only that panel’s power output will be reduced, not the whole system’s output. 

  • Battery Inverters

Battery inverters can be retrofitted to your existing string or microinverter solar system. Battery inverters convert your battery power into 230V AC and delivers it into your switchboards where possible.

  • Central Inverters

Central inverters are used for solar systems that are in the megawatt capacity (huge!). They are so hefty that they actually look like big metal cabinets and can handle colossal amounts of power per enclosure. Central inverters are used for commercial solar installations or solar farms, as opposed to residential usage.

  • Hybrid Inverters

Hybrid inverters are relatively common in Australia as they allow you to plug batteries into your solar system. They use ‘DC coupling’ (when both the solar and batteries use one inverter and the DC from the solar panels charges the batteries via a DC charger) to interface with batteries, and their electronics coordinate the charging and discharging of the battery.

What size (capacity) of solar inverter do I need?

This question can lead to some confusion. To simplify it as much as possible, it’s best to get an inverter that is able to handle the maximum power output that your solar system can produce. Basically put, if you need a 5kW solar system, get 5kW of panels and a 5kW inverter to go with it. There are, however, exceptions to this rule but it starts to get very complicated! 

The takeaway point here is: you need to ensure your inverter’s rating in kW is equal to or more than the solar panels’ output.

How long do solar inverters last and do they have warranties?

Grid connected inverters typically last 10-20 years. You can expect most good quality units to certainly be effective for at least 10 years minimum. Warranty periods for inverters vary, but the average is around 5-12 years. Some manufacturers offer an extension option at additional cost.

Is the solar inverter weatherproof?

This is worth consideration. Your inverter’s location will be determined by whether it can withstand exposure to the elements. If the inverter is not weatherproof, it’s worth investing in a weatherproof cage to protect it as the inverter is essentially a box of sensitive electronics, which may be affected by the heat and weather. The warranty of your inverter may stipulate that it is not placed in direct sunlight so check these specifications on the solar inverter and speak to the solar installation company to discuss where to install it.

How can I see how my solar inverter is performing?

The solar inverter displays will allow performance information to be viewed directly on the inverter and many have remote monitoring options to view from your phone or tablet. Some of the information that may be displayed includes:

  • The amount of energy (kWh) generated on a daily basis
  • The amount of power (kW) currently being generated
  • The amount of electricity (kWh) produced since the inverter was installed
  • How many hours the system has been producing power

How much do solar inverters cost?

Solar inverters range in all shapes and sizes as you can see so this is a hard question to answer. It will depend on your requirements so make sure you do your research into what exactly you need. Prices can range from $800 to $5,000 and up! Remember though: you get what you pay for so try and avoid the cheapest options on the market. 

Talk to our Gold Coast CEC Accredited Solar Installers

If you have any questions or need to organise a solar technician to attend to your home or workplace, give us a call on 1300 029 795 or complete our online solar enquiry form.

QLDgov.au - buying solar products
Energy.gov.au - solar PV & batteries
Yourhome.gov.au - batteries & inverters
Carbontrack.com.au - Solar inverters